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Nature Pieces is a performance art piece transposing the work of late American composer Morton Feldman into a hike that takes place within 4 square miles of Blair Valley.

As an amateur songwriter, I have practiced turning an experience into music. It interested me, then, to see what kind of experience could be produced from a piece of music.

The original intention was to read a piece of music into a program and compare its peaks in frequency to digital elevation models-- in other words, use the music as a map, directly. This gradually revealed itself to be an exercise in futility for a few reasons. It probably would have been impossible to get to most locations if the relationship between the data and the elevation model was frequency and height. Data transposition is arbitrary, anyway. Also, I just couldn't get the software to work.

I stopped and considered the main influence of this work. What had given me the idea to map music was Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel. The site dictated the music. I wanted to reverse it, to map the music, originally, but then I realized that doing so would be like a sacrilege. I suddenly felt it would be wrong, not necessarily just to take it out of context (obviously, I've never been to Rothko Chapel), but to purposely map it onto this other landscape.

Of course, there was still the problem of getting the software to work.

I did more research into Morton Feldman. Under the influence of John Cage, Feldman had begun experimenting with alternative methods of composition, frequently utilizing grids and a notation that would tell a musician how many notes to play over a period but not necessarily which ones.

I decided then to adopt a similar method of "composition," designating a grid of four square miles to have three waypoints in each quadrant. To try to keep with the original idea, the waypoints would be determined pseudo-randomly by the metadata from a Feldman piece.

This particular hike was determined by a sound clip of Nature Pieces for Piano, I. Feldman's compositions work rather well for this exercise, as his music has a sort of aimless, endless, intimate quality that was reflected in the route through Blair Valley.


© 2005 Katherine Valdoria